On the days I remember and make myself sit down to read the Bible, I use the Book of Common Prayer as my guide, typically reading a Psalm, an Old Testament passage and a Gospel passage. For the past couple of weeks, the Old Testament reading was from Job.
I’m guessing that even if you don’t read the Old Testament and don’t believe a word of the Bible you might still know Job–the guy who had it all and then lost it all in what seems like a cruel wager between God and the devil. It’s a dramatic story. I think we forget sometimes how dramatic. This guy was living not just the good life but the best life. He had everything he ever wanted and more. And then God let it all be taken away so Job could discover the true source of his security and faith.
I love the book of Job because it is full of colorful characters and deep questions and proclamations of faith. But whenever I read it, I wonder if I could do what Job did. Could I lose it all and still praise God?
How would I respond to the kind of deep tragedy Job experiences? Loss of children, home, vocation, health, reputation. About the only things he has left are a bitter wife and unhelpful friends. (Those people I can relate to, unfortunately.)
I read Job with interest but also with a silent plea to never, ever be in that position. I don’t think I could handle it.
People amaze me, especially the ones whose lives have been altered by tragedy. I don’t know if I would even get out of bed if I faced what they’ve faced. And sometimes I find myself staring, not because I want to make them uncomfortable but because I want to sear on my mind a picture of survival. This, I tell myself, this is what strength looks like. Some days, I’m brave enough to say it out loud. Other days, I just sit back and watch.
There’s this quote by Ernest Hemingway I wasn’t aware of until recently. (Although I’m a book lover, my retention of classic works of literature is embarrassing.)
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.
The context of the paragraph is not particularly hopeful, but I’m drawn to this idea that the places where we break, where we’re broken, can be strong.
And have you seen the pictures and descriptions of the Japanese art form of fixing broken pottery with gold? If you look it up on Pinterest, you’ll find these words attached to the photos of this art: “understanding the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.”
I confess: I seldom think something broken is beautiful nor do I see my own brokenness as beautiful. I’m more like, “Ew, Lisa. That’s ugly.”
But thanks be to God who sees beauty in the broken and who is even now making all things new.
There’s a killer on the loose in the Pocono Mountains, a man who waited in the bushes for a shift change at a state police barracks and shot two troopers, killing one of them. His picture gives me that creepy feeling and two nights ago, I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking: What would I do? What if he somehow made his way here, to our town? Would I be aware enough to notice? And would I be able to do the courageous thing and make a call?
I’m living in a state of fear these days, imagining all sorts of horrible things happening to our family. I’m overwhelmed and stressed and I think some past experiences are finally catching up with me emotionally. It’s hard to see good when you’re thinking like this. Everything becomes scary or a potential disaster and the words I speak have little encouragement. And a scan through my Facebook “news” feed doesn’t help. There’s fear multiplied. Bad news all around.
And I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before some kind of tragedy touches a little closer to home.
For the past year, I’ve called life “good.” Surely it’s time for that to end, right? Surely there’s a limit to the good times, the feelings of security and fullness.
Everything has a season. We’re rushing on toward fall, the season when the visible signs of life begin their descent and decay. When green turns brilliant red and orange and yellow before ending on brown. When the harvest is brought in and the fields are barren once again.
There is life on the other side, we know. Fall, winter, they don’t last forever, just their allotted time. Still, the shift from long days of light to long nights of darkness takes some getting used to.
Most transitions do.
“How did those get there?”
We noticed the flowers growing in front of our house from under our porch. We didn’t plant flowers this year. We didn’t plant anything this year. Still getting used to our new surroundings, we focused more on pruning and cleaning the land we’d been given as part of our rental property.
These flowers were a surprise. They’re still a mystery.
They make me think of the adage “you reap what you sow.” We did not sow flowers this year and yet we are reaping their beauty.
These tiny yellow blooms are a delight in a season when few things are blooming. This is why I love spring, everything pops with color, though I’m learning that it doesn’t have to end with spring.
Still, I look at these flowers and I see a message of hope.
Beauty shows up in the unlikeliest places, sometimes, at the unlikeliest times. There is no time limit, no boundary on joy or beauty or love or hope, no matter what the circumstances might try to tell us.
In Job, I read that God who began the world is keeping it together, that our very lives are a gift and we don’t have to fear loss. In other books of the Old Testament I read that God makes living water flow where only deserts persist. He feeds and fills and pursues and protects, all in the name of love.
And when I can’t see what He’s up to, He gives me just a hint.
See that, there. I’m breaking through. Don’t give up. Don’t despair.
So, I look for it, the glimpses of God breaking through. The beauty in the broken. The hope hanging on when fear is all around.
Are you looking for it, too?